WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2005 (ENS):
The U.S. Agriculture Department's announcement last
week that the United States will lift its mad cow ban
on Canadian beef imposed in May 2003 has stirred up
a storm of controversy in the U.S. livestock community.
Some organizations are outraged that Canadian beef will
once again be imported, especially since on Sunday,
Canadian food safety officials announced that another
mad cow had been identified in Alberta.
Other organizations are just as concerned that the
ban still exists and will remain in place until March
7 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will
begin a new system of defining minimal risk zones for
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease.
Canada is the first minimal risk zone identified under
the new rule.
But the day after USDA Secretary Ann Veneman announced
the minimal risk zone rule, the American Meat Institute
(AMI) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court saying
there is no legal or scientific justification for continuing
to ban Canadian cattle 30 months of age and older.
The brains, skulls, spinal cords and lower intestines
of cattle older than 30 months are the most likely to
transmit the misfolded proteins called prions that cause
mad cow disease. These materials, called specified risk
materials, were banned from the human food supply by
USDA officials last January.
Since September 2003, the United States has been allowing
imports of Canadian boneless beef from animals younger
than 30 months under a permit process.
The American Meat Institute argues in its lawsuit that
the USDA ban on older Canadian cattle is "scientifically
insupportable and is therefore arbitrary and capricious
and contrary to law, in violation of the Administration
Procedure Act." The Institute made clear that it
is not challenging the new minimal risk rule, but is
seeking an injunction against enforcement of the original
May 2003 ban.
Calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin
sister ugly," said Mark Dopp, the Institute's senior
vice president for regulatory affairs and general counsel.
"The U.S. and Canada both have implemented state-of-the-art,
meat inspection and animal disease prevention systems.
As we look across the borders, we see near mirror images
of one another."
The minimal risk rule is based on safeguards to keep
prions out of the food supply, including removal of
specified risk materials from all animals entering the
human food supply, and a ban on allowing proteins derived
from ruminant animals in cattle feed. Both Canada and
the United States supposedly have these safeguards in
But in fact, specified risk materials from cattle older
than 30 months are getting into the human food supply,
according to the union that represents federal inspectors
in U.S. meat plants.
The National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals
warned the USDA in a letter dated December 8, 2004 that
inspectors had found heads and carcasses of cows on
slaughter and processing lines that were not always
correctly marked as being older than 30 months. Brain
tissue is a specified risk material known to carry prions.
"We couldn't determine that every part out of
there was from a cow under 30 months," Stan Painter,
the union's chairman, told MSNBC.com late last month.
The removal of specified risk materials is internationally
recognized as the most effective means to protect public
health from mad cow disease, and USDA officials said
as late as December 29 that they are "confident"
the system is working as it should.
Veneman said, "After conducting an extensive review,
we are confident that imports of certain commodities
from regions of minimal risk can occur with virtually
no risk to human or animal health. Our approach is consistent
with guidelines established by the World Organization
for Animal Health, or OIE, and relies on appropriate,
science based risk mitigation measures."
"The animal and public health measures that Canada
has in place to prevent BSE, combined with existing
U.S. domestic safeguards and additional safeguards provided
in the final rule provide the utmost protections to
U.S. consumers and livestock," the agency said
December 29, announcing the new minimal risk rule.
The 106 year old National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
(NCBA), the largest organization representing America’s
cattle industry, has weighed in on the side of lifting
the ban, calling the new rule "an important step
toward normalizing global trade, which increases profitability
for America’s cattle producers."
But the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC),
which represents grassroots organizations from seven
states, said Monday that "the National Cattlemen’s
Beef Association’s endorsement of reopening the
border is appalling."
Mabel Dobbs, an Idaho rancher who heads the WORC Livestock
Committee, said Congress should block the Agriculture
Department’s plan to reopen the border on March
7. "USDA and the NCBA do not have the best interests
of United States consumers and cattle producers at heart,
Congress must step in," she said.
Reopening the border "puts U.S. consumers at risk,
threatens to delay resumption of U.S. beef exports to
Asia, and would devastate U.S. cattle markets,"
Other cattlemen also oppose lifting of the ban on Canadian
beef from cattle older than 30 months. R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen
Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) represents
thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing
R-CALF's Bill Bullard said his organization seeks a
reversal of the USDA's new minimal risk rule. The rule
does not even require Canada to meet the more stringent
BSE mitigation measures outlined by the World Animal
Health Organization for BSE moderate-risk countries,
said Bullard, and "this is one of the main reasons
the agency’s final rule must be overturned."
The USDA's mad cow testing program is found here.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All